CHARLOTTETOWN — Mo Babouli's highlight-reel goal lifted Forge FC to a 1-0 victory over Cavalry FC on Tuesday, moving the defending CPL champions into the Island Games final.
The result in the group stage finale for both teams eliminated the injury-depleted Calgary side while assuring HFX Wanderers a berth in Saturday's championship game. Cavalry (1-2-0 in the group stage and 5-4-1 overall) needed a win to move on.
The Island Games champion collects the North Star Shield, advances to the 2020 Canadian Championship final and earn a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF League.
Halifax's Wanderers (1-1-1 in the group stage and 4-2-4 overall) were blanked 5-0 by the already eliminated Pacific FC (1-2-0 in the group stage and 4-4-2 overall) in the evening match.
It's been amazing turnaround for Stephen Hart's Wanderers, who were bottom of the 2019 overall standings at 6-12-10.
Hamilton's Forge (2-0-1 in the group stage and 5-1-4 overall) is now unbeaten in five matches (3-0-2) at the tournament. Forge and HFX played to 1-1 ties twice earlier in the tournament — Aug. 19 in the first stage and Sept. 9 in the group stage.
Tuesday's game was a rematch of last year's two-legged final, won 2-0 on aggregate by Forge. The two teams tied 2-2 in the Aug. 13 opener of the Island Games with Calgary's Nathan Mavila converting a controversial penalty in stoppage time.
Calgary's roster had taken a beating in recent weeks.
Cavalry was without the suspended Jonathan Wheeldon. Sergio Camargo (quad), Nik Ledgerwood (leg), Nico Pasquotti (knee) and Oliver Minatel (leg) were injured, leaving Calvary coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. with only a six-man bench.
"It's hard for me to sit here and bemoan this, that and the other when (the players) have done everything they could do," said Wheeldon. "I can't fault their effort, their heart, their willingness to run, their willingness to compete with a very good team."
"It was almost like a deja-vu of the (2019) finals where we just lack quality when it counts," he added.
Forge was missing Klaidi Cela (knee) and Chris Nanco (hamstring).
Forge weathered an early Cavalry storm, went ahead in the 28th minute and then locked down its defence.
"We had a very distinct tactical plan in this game and the guys went out and executed it," said coach Bobby Smyrniotis. "And if we had done it just a little bit better, I think we've probably got a few more goals in this game.
"We exploited the space that Cavalry leaves on the field in a lot of situations in the game and that's how the goal comes. That's a play that comes out of training the day before."
Forge went ahead in the 28th minute against the run of play as captain Kyle Bekker sliced open the Cavalry defence with a marvellous pass that took three defenders out of the play. Babouli was the benefactor with a finish to match, chipping goalkeeper Marco Carducci to cap off the sequence between the two ex-Toronto FC players.
"A moment of brilliance and I got on the end of it," said Babouli.
Kwame Awuah did his bit on the play, accelerating to keep the ball out of touch moments before Bekker's setup that produced Forge's first shot — and goal — of the game.
Bekker was accidentally punched in the face by a teammate in the celebratory scrum that followed.
Players from both sides took a knee around the centre circle during the national anthem and at the opening whistle at UPEI Artificial Turf Field.
Cavalry showed more attack early on but was unable to convert. Forge, meanwhile, had trouble breaking through Cavalry's tight marking.
Mavila's third-minute free kick from well outside the penalty box proved to be an easy save for Forge's Triston Henry. Elliot Simmons' long-range shot for Cavalry deflected off defender David Edgar in the 13th minute.
Henry had to be sharp to pick off a dangerous low cross from Marcus Haber in the 22nd minute after the big man rocketed down the right wing.
Cavalry trailed 1-0 at the half, despite having 57 per cent possession and outshooting Forge 6-2 (2-1 in shots on target).
Forge came out strong in the second half while Cavalry struggled to breach the Hamilton team's defence.
Paolo Sabak, in front of the Cavalry goal, could not get to Babouli's cross early in the second half. Then Babouli was unable to get a foot to a Johnny Grant cross.
Robert Boskovic's header off a Cavalry free kick was just wide in the 70th minute. Then Forge FC substitute David Choiniere hit the side netting in the 74th.
Haber's header went over the Forge crossbar in the 89th minute.
The eight CPL clubs played each other in the first phase of the tournament, with the four top teams advancing to the group stage. The top two then move to the championship game.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2020.
The Canadian Press